Lessons to be learned for losers in Amazon HQ2 contest

Amazon’s high-stakes bidding for HQ2 is going to break plenty of hearts. But can cities and states ultimately learn from it? Competing for the high end of the innovation economy requires a different toolbox than cheap land and housing or abundant freeways.

With at least 130 locales competing to land Amazon’s HQ2 — in Jeff Bezo’s words “a full equal to our Seattle headquarters” — one has to wonder what happens to the scores of losers?

The day after the site of HQ2 is announced should be enough time to process the defeat. What happens after that may be an angry shout from sea to shining sea, but I suspect the residents of those cities or states will keep on hitting the “Place your order” button on Amazon. The more interesting question is whether HQ2 marks a turning point of some kind.

I know that many Seattleites blame Amazon for every growing pain or social ill here. Among these, many wish Amazon had put its headquarters elsewhere — out in the suburbs or even in another state. This is the magical thinking of a very spoiled, blessed city.

Seattle never saw virtually all of its local headquarters lost to mergers or Wall Street greed, to be replaced by … nothing. Never had its legacy industries eliminated and good jobs go from abundant to rare. It didn’t become one of so many places that towered in mid-20th century America’s economy but now depend on health care, a military base, a casino or a prison.

Amazon’s HQ & HQ2

Those places know better. They’re not convinced by warnings from some here about the changes HQ2 would bring — partly because their low wages make affordability a problem already, and partly because they never were the idealized Seattle of nostalgia.

Hence the gold rush mentality for Amazon’s promise of 50,000 high-paid jobs and $5 billion in investment.

They feel a fierce urgency to bring in the biggest single economic-development win in memory. One that would…

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